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Adventure Sport Basics

From the April 2007 issue of Ohio Sports & Fitness Magazine.

Adventure Sport Basics

by Kevin Madzia

As a reader of this magazine, you've probably done at least one competitive event in your preferred activity. Are you looking for a new challenge? Then adventure racing may be just the ticket for you.

An adventure race is loosely defined as an event combining two or more athletic disciplines, which may include running, cycling, paddling, swimming, climbing, or orienteering. You may think of an adventure race as a triathlon with a “twist.” In addition to testing your physical abilities, they are often designed to test your problem-solving abilities.

There is no standard for the length or duration of an adventure race. They can range from “sprint” events that last a few hours, to day-long endurance events, to multi-day tests of survival. The rules of the event can also vary greatly from one to another; some adventure races permit no outside assistance whatsoever during the competition, others allow support at designated checkpoints or staging areas. Some adventure races permit competitors to assist one another during the event. There are usually no designated “rest” periods during an adventure race; even during multi-day events, it is up to the competitors to decide when (or if) to rest or sleep.

No one is certain when adventure racing was “invented.” There were a few events beginning in the late 1960's that had some of the features of what we consider adventure racing today. However, the sport probably first came into the awareness of the couch-surfing public in the mid-1990's, when television producer Mark Burnett promoted the first Eco-Challenge race. This multi-day survival test became a TV ratings hit, and arguably was the origin of the “reality TV” craze, which continues to this day with Mr. Burnett's more well-known creation, Survivor.

Adventure racing is enticing to many athletes because of the unpredictable nature of the events. The order of the main events is often not announced until the start of the competition. Racers may be required to successfully complete several “special tests,” such as climbing vertical ropes and/or ladders, swings, rappelling, log traverses, obstacle courses, or whatever the race organizers' devious minds can come up with.

Another part of the appeal of adventure racing is that they are usually team events. Completing the physical and mental challenges with your team provides a great sense of accomplishment, as well as being a fun source of stories to share with friends for years. Some races allow teams to compete relay-style, but the more common rule is that team members must start and finish together.

Check the course description to know whether to choose road or trail running shoes, and a road or mountain bike. Most races that include a paddling event make some arrangements for people who do not have their own canoe or kayak.

You may be permitted to store and change clothes in a staging area, or you may be forced to make do with whatever you can wear or carry on your back. Often, your choice of clothing and gear will involve many gambles and compromises.

Sprint races usually do not include an orienteering event; for those that do, it may just involve following a small hand-drawn map. For some longer adventure races, the orienteering event is the major focus of the race, and your finishing the race, not to mention your survival, may depend on being able to navigate your way through many miles of open wilderness.

For multi-day adventure races, you'll need to pack all of the basic gear to accommodate your day-to-day needs, similar to what you would take on a typical backpacking excursion. Don't forget to think about any first aid or special medications that you may need, even for short races. As an example, during my first adventure race, the orienteering route took my team and I right past a beehive, so don't forget your sting pen if you require one!

Cross-training takes on even more importance compared to single-sport races. You will need to work on building the whole body strength and flexibility that you will need to handle the demands of the events. If you need some help with your training, consult a certified personal trainer.

Getting a group of friends together to form a team can be a huge advantage; you can provide the motivation for each other to train, and by the time of the race, you'll be accustomed to communicating and working together as a team. If you can't convince any of your friends, then search on-line racing forums to hook up with other teams looking to fill a spot.


National Organizations
United States Adventure Racing Association –
Canadian Adventure Racing Association –

Local Clubs
Ohio Adventure Racing Club –
Cleveland Triathlon Club –
North Eastern Ohio Orienteering Club –

Events and Promoters
Ambush Adventure Sports –
HFP Racing –

Training & Instruction
American Adventure Sports –
Odyssey Adventure Racing –

Kevin Madzia is the information systems manager for Century Cycles, Peninsula. Kevin's cycling experience, which spans more than seven years, includes adventure racing, mountain biking, and road cycling. Century Cycles is a full-service bicycle shop with additional locations in Medina and Rocky River. For more information, visit